For the past 12 years the members of the Celtic band Outside Track have spent six months of every year on tour, covering the globe from Europe to the Americas and from Australia to India.
For the moment, they are enjoying the chance to see a little bit more of the UK, with a date coming up at Shoreham’s Ropetackle on January 23.
The music they play reflects their different heritages, a mix of Scots, Irish, and Cape Breton song and dance.
Accordion player Fiona Black founded the band with electric harpist Ailie Robertson: “We met in Limerick in 2005 and the band started the next year. We only lived in the same place for less than a year!
“Naturally over the years we have had changes in personnel. People move on or can’t tour or have children or whatever reasons, but there are four of us in the main band and we have been together quite a while now.”
Alongside Fiona and Ailie, there’s Irish flautist/lead singer Teresa Horgan and fiddler Mairi Rankin, a member of Canada’s first family of folk music, plus Sean Gray on guitar.
“We all live in different places. The Irish one lives in Ireland; the Canadian one lives in Cape Breton and I live in the Highlands. Another girl lives in Glasgow.”
All of which means they have to take full advantage of the time that they do spent together: “We have a Skype meeting and we organise what we are going to do, and then when we are together, it is very intensive.
“On a day off on tour, we will do some filming or some recording or we will do some promotional stuff. When we aren’t on tour, we don’t see each other a lot, but then when we are on tour, it means that we really do appreciate each other.
“There are four of us in the main band and we are like sisters. Because we have known each other such a long time, we tend to respect each other musically and personality-wise. We get on so well. It is amazing to find that we have been on tour for six months and then all still miss each other two days after we get back. And because we love each other so much, it does still mean that we can have 30 seconds where we want to kill each other and then get back to it all! Everything balances itself out nicely.”
And it all filters through into the music.
“The blend is very organic. Whoever’s leading a tune influences the sound of it. We play original music as well as traditional pieces. When we’re not touring, we spend hours going through archives trying to find good tunes that aren’t well known.”
The love they have for their separate traditions comes across on stage. It’s music from across the Celtic spectrum, performed with real passion.
The mix of tunes from cultures that share a common past captures the ear, but they offer much more – good songs and plenty of step dancing to shake up the crowds.
As Ailie says: “The biggest comment we get is that we look like we’re having so much fun when we play. It’s true – we are. There’s always a high energy level from the moment we start. People think it’s going to be delicate since women front the band, but it’s definitely not. We love to defy assumptions about the way we’ll sound.”
A decade on the road has taught the members a great deal. They’ve worked hard to build a strong following, and they keep pushing; there’s never any complacency.
“The longevity we’ve managed is something,” Ailie says. “People respect that – it’s rare in our industry these days.
“But for us this is a full-time job. We can be in other bands, but the Outside Track remains the main thing. We have the love and belief in what we’re all doing together with this music.
“When we started out we were making about £25 a day on the road. It’s better now, but you have to really love it to keep going.”